Outsourcing: Threat or Opportunity?

Joan Marques - Ed.D., MBA.
Burbank, California

In the past few months concerns about outsourcing have surged to truly vexing proportions in almost all sectors of the U.S. corporate world. In a recent edition of the Wall street Journal, Maher (2004a) presents a statement by John McCarthy, vice president of Forrester Research Inc., who estimates that "as many as 588,000 U.S. white-collar jobs will be 'off-shored' by 2005 -- and a total of 1.6 million by 2010" (p. B1).

While in the not so far past mainly lower level jobs were exported to countries offering low labor costs, today every profession is in jeopardy, even the jobs of accountants, analysts, tax-professionals, architects, attorneys, radiologists, or technical writers, to name a few. The idea of telecommuting has expanded: the positive sound that this job flexibility tool used to have is not so positive anymore. Once upon a fairly recent time, telecommuting was perceived as a way to keep good workers active by accommodating them through working from home. However, this phenomenon has now expanded to a scale where workers don't just work from their home in the next street, neighborhood, or town, but in the next continent as well!

The telecommuting shift has, thus, resulted in an elevation of the education levels of jobs that are crossing borders. So, what does the picture look like today? No matter whether you are a worker at the lowest echelon of an organization, or a top performer with an advanced degree, your job can be exported next year, next month, or even next week.

As soon as you find out that the U.S. company you work for has tested Bangalorian, Coimbatorian, or any other transcontinental waters, you can start counting down. And not even obtaining higher education will keep your job secure anymore! No wonder that more and more people get nervous about this whole trend: globalization was supposed to be a positive development, not a threatening one.

Before offering some positive attitudinal suggestions regarding outsourcing, here is a point to ponder: long before this trend became a reason for concern in the industrialized world, globalization was a nightmare to the lesser-developed, smaller-scale producing countries of this world.

For the longest time these countries were beleaguered by mass production from their industrialized "brothers and sisters," who could afford infinitely cheaper and larger scale production due to their massive and advanced setups. Becoming a partner in a regional trade community simply meant more prosperity for the prosperous, and more poverty for the poor. Borders had to be unlocked for giants who could now freely expand their state of the art services to neighbors who were still struggling with old-fashioned production processes and meager performance levels.

And now these "poor" countries are finally gradually emerging from their desolation: they offer their services on-location and through the Internet to corporations from industrialized countries, and obtain jobs at these corporations for a salary, considerably higher than what they used to get paid at home, yet significantly lower than what these corporations would pay to the workers in the industrialized home country! And that is what this entire outsourcing issue looks like from the other side of the mirror.

So, now that this has been placed on the table, here are some suggestions for workers in countries that endure job losses through outsourcing:

  • Polish up your entrepreneurial skills. Smaller, lean-and-mean operations will have longer endurance than mammoths with little or no flexibility. "Seek out new possibilities outside your company," suggests Maher (2004b, p. B8). This author refers to our human inventiveness by predicting that the offshoring of jobs will ultimately create new entrepreneurial opportunities. Maher cites Bharat Desai, chairman and chief executive of technology outsourcing company Syntel Inc., who declared, "The more repetitive jobs will go offshore, because it will be more cost effective and higher value to do that," (p. B8) This means that the less repetitive jobs will stay!
  • Enlarge your horizons. Try to find out in what other industries than the one in which you are currently working your skills can be applied. Then, familiarize yourself with the wheelings and dealings of that industry, just in case...
  • Engage in some in-depth self-exploration in order to find out what other work-preferences you have. Then, see what you can do to increase your capabilities in those other areas as well. The more diverse your skills, the greater your applicability in the rapid changing global work environment.
  • Read! Listen! Surf the Net! Travel! Do everything you can to familiarize yourself with other environments than the one you are currently in. It may sound like an unrealistic, even silly suggestion, but think of all the people who have changed environments in the past for their betterment. If they could do it, you can too. If the world is becoming a global village, and we are all becoming "citizens of the world," we may as well get ourselves comfortable in our new, enlarged "home," right? Besides, even if you don't want to go anywhere, it is always a plus to at least know what's going on out there.
  • Here are, at the end of this little contemplation, two positive notes to boost motivation:

      1. Threats can be seen as opportunities. And people are generally known for their resilience in turbulent times. In a recent Fortune article the following statement was posted: "One of the greatest assets of America, so underestimated there but so attractive to outsiders, is the ability of the U.S. to compete and come out on top, yet to absorb periodic shocks. I don't feel America is going to lose its economic dominance in any manner" ("Outrage Over Outsourcing," 2004, p. 32).

      2. Even outsourcing and the entire trend of globalization have their limitations. As Maher (2004a) puts it: "Geographic and cultural differences can make it hard for overseas workers to take over highly sophisticated jobs" (Maher, 2004a, p. B1).

    In conclusion: Whether we choose to perceive outsourcing as a threat or an opportunity depends on our mindset, our actions, and most of all: our approach. As one of the four noble truths in Buddha's teaching tells us, "As we are the ultimate cause of our difficulties, we are also the solution. We cannot change the things that happen to us, but we can change our responses" ("The four noble," 4).


    Anonymous. (2004, March 22). Outrage Over Outsourcing. Fortune, 149, 32.

    Maher, K. (2004a, March 23). Next on the Outsourcing List; Job Shift to Cheaper Countries Could Threaten More Careers: Analysts, Architects, Attorneys. The Wall Street Journal, pp. B1.

    Maher, K. (2004b, Mar. 23). What to Do if You Fear Your Job May Go Abroad. Wall Street Journal, pp. B8.

    Unknown. the four noble truths. FWBO.org. Retrieved on March 24, 2004, from http://www.fwbo.org/fournobletruths.html